Voting in the Unite General Secretary election continues until 19 April, and most members won’t have voted, so the campaign is not over yet. But it is important to think about what comes after the result is declared on Friday 28 April. Whoever wins members will need to keep pushing to make Unite a stronger union. Grassroots socialist challenger Ian Allinson sets out some initial thoughts.
Many of the ideas put forward in our campaign have gained wide support – not just from those who are supporting me in this election, but also from many who backed McCluskey from fear of Coyne, and even from a few who backed Coyne, seeing him as the best chance of getting rid of McCluskey.
All meaningful change comes from below, and all meaningful change is the result of collective effort. So how can we most effectively take forward our ideas after the campaign? The ian4unite campaign is organising four post-election meetings to discuss this. If you want to push forward the broad agenda I’m campaigning for you are welcome at these meetings no matter who you have supported in the election:
- Saturday 6 May: 1:30 – 3pm, Avant Garde, 34-44 King Street Glasgow G1 5QT [Facebook event]
- Sunday 7 May: 2-4pm, Peterloo Room, Mechanics Centre, 103 Princess St (Major St entrance), Manchester, M1 6DD [Facebook event]
- Saturday 13 May: Alumni Lecture Theatre, Room 110, SOAS Senate House, Paul Webley Wing, Malet Street, London, WC1 7HU [Facebook event]
- Sunday 14 May: 3-5pm, Briar Rose, 25 Bennetts Hill, Birmingham B2 5RE [Facebook event]
I will update details here as they become available. If you want to get involved please leave your details so I can update you directly.
My provisional thoughts are that we should establish some ongoing organisation within Unite. I think it is important that this isn’t primarily focused on elections – it shouldn’t be a rival to the United Left, but occupy a position more like the Construction Rank and File which includes members who are and are not United Left supporters. Though I disagreed with their stance, many good activists have backed Len McCluskey in the current election and members need all of us to work together after the election.
If its focus isn’t internal elections, what could such an organisation do? Some possibilities, depending on the views and commitment of those involved, could include:
- Putting like-minded activists in touch with each other on the basis of region, industry or issue.
- Acting as an umbrella organisation supporting groups of activists in particular industries pushing for a more robust approach to specific industrial issues e.g. to reject bad deals, raise neglected issues or challenge partnership arrangements.
- If I’m not elected as General Secretary, can we as activists implement some of the pledges anyway? For example a regular bulletin highlighting disputes, campaigns and other information; or collecting case studies of our successes?
- Campaigning to change Unite Policies and Rules.
- Getting experts and activists together to thrash out effective responses to specific issues affecting many sectors e.g. performance management.
In addition to the issues raised in the campaign, many members have been raising the need to reform Unite’s election processes, for example:
- Control of campaign spending. Are the huge sums spent by the two establishment candidates in this campaign external interference in our democratic process? Or are they from Unite funds? Does anyone seriously think members expect hundreds of thousands of pounds of their money to be spent promoting candidates rather than promoting their interests?
- A level playing field on access to and use of branch, activist and member data to strike the right balance between trying to engage members and preventing them being spammed by candidates with privileged access.
- Official hustings so that all members can engage directly with the debates.
- Change from First Past The Post to Single Transferable Vote (as used by many unions) so members can vote for the candidates they want without fear of “splitting the vote?
Members are not impressed at seeing newspaper and social media ads for candidates, phonebanking, personalised emails and texts and a tidal wave of literature to campaign for General Secretary candidates, when we can’t get similar resources to help us tackle pressing industrial issues. It gives members the impression that one job at the top of Unite is seen as more important to fight for than thousands of jobs at the grass roots.
The higher the vote I get the easier it will be to shake up Unite and make it more effective in facing up to the attacks we face from employers and government. But whatever the result, keep shaking!